The Industry, Research, and Energy (ITRE) and Culture and Education (CULT) committees of the European Parliament conducted a three-hour questioning session with Iliana Ivanova, the Bulgarian Commissioner-designate. She is nominated to take over the portfolio of her predecessor, Mariya Gabriel, which encompasses Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth. Ivanova is also a member of the Bulgarian GERB Party (EPP), led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. With the European Commission's mandate nearing its end, Gabriel had resigned on 15 May to join the Bulgarian government following the elections. This was soon followed by Executive Vice Presidents Vestager and Timmermans, also eyeing new top jobs.
The hearing began with a statement from Ivanova, where she outlined her priorities. These include increased investment in research and innovation within the EU, enhancing skills, promoting culture's cohesive role, and empowering youth. She stressed the importance of attracting diverse talent and increasing gender inclusion. Ivanova also highlighted her goal of making research programs more accessible to partner countries to promote international cooperation. In this regard, she proposed establishing a Horizon Europe office in Kyiv if appointed.
Following Ivanova's speech, MEPs questioned her on various topics, including how to improve the efficiency, transparency, and budget utilisation of the Horizon Europe program and adapt it to new challenges. They raised issues faced by research in Europe, such as difficulties in accessing funding for Central and Eastern European countries and SMEs. The importance of defending academic freedom in Europe was also emphasised.
Overall, MEPs took a friendly approach with Ivanova, considering her a solid and convincing choice for the role. Her previous experiences at the European Court of Auditors (ECA) and the European Parliament's budgetary control committee, where fund management is crucial, bolstered her candidacy. The final step towards her nomination involves a vote during the European Parliament's plenary session on September 11-14.